Create: How to Sell Out

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I’m not proud of this moment but that’s me. There is no denying it. This is photographic evidence of just one of the MANY times I’ve sold out. The case in question dates back to the Southern California of the late 1990s. The only personal object in this photograph is my trusty Leica. The rest, props in a long-standing, entertaining charade that was my career at Eastman Kodak. More specifically, Kodak Professional.

Yes, that is an M6 and 35mm in case you got distracted. Circa 1997.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved my time at Kodak. I worked with fantastic people, we had great products and life was SLOW compared to the hectic nonsense of today. When I started at Kodak I had no mobile phone and no computer. It was heaven. Oh, did I mention they gave me a company car? A jet black Pontiac Grand Prix with a broken side mirror and a faulty electrical system. The doors would lock and unlock endlessly as I drove down the tarmac, and sometimes at stoplights, the trunk would open by itself. “Thunk.” I called the beast The Millenium Pontiac and would make the jump to light speed anytime I drove south to San Diego across the open expanse of Camp Pendleton, a location I viewed as offering “unlimited speed.”

I would also use the entire inside of the car as a drying rack after marathon, all night darkroom printing sessions at my friend’s underground lab. (No joke, this was literally a hand made cave created when my friend’s father tunneled into a mountainside.) I would lay out my prints (Kodak Ektalure Paper.) on the seats, dashboard and rear window then drive triple digits on my way north.

Kodak was a compromise. All jobs are for the most part. The question is how far are you willing to go? How much will you give up to gain? Taking the job was easy for me. My salary when I started was around $37,000. I thought this was more money than I could ever use and my first thought was “Cool, I’ll have enough to donate to other people,” which I did. (The following year I got a MASSIVE pay increase after Kodak realized the California cost of living was astronomical compared to Rochester, New York.)

I had never worked for a legendary company like Kodak so culturally I had a lot to learn. I was also asked to do things I loved and other things that made me shake my head. Again, every job I’ve ever had consisted of these same ingredients. I was a hot tub installer once, not a job I recommend, and had to do a TON of things that made me question humanity in general.

My boss at Kodak was awesome. He is no longer with us but I think about him on a regular basis. On my first day on the job he approached me with a perfectly straight face and asked if I could grow a beard. I assured him I could grow something resembling a beard, kinda, and when I asked why he said: “How do you feel about wearing women’s clothing?” Before I answer he said “Hang on,” and took off to talk to someone else. I began to wonder what kind of crew I was running with. A few months later I was in full makeup wearing a dress in the back of a convertible driving through Venice Beach. It’s a long story. Was it a sellout? Probably, but totally worth it.

A few days ago I told a friend I was pondering the idea of getting a Leica, full-frame digital camera body. Wait, wait, wait, let me explain. (There are so many now I don’t even know which one.) Yes, I love my Fuji system and have no plans to sell it. For the money, in my opinion, Fuji makes the best system you can buy. Capable, logical, small and affordable. But it’s not full-frame and the imagery, especially the daily stuff I make, does not look like my film-based work of yesteryear. (By far my best work.) No matter what I do with the Fuji system it will not replace the look of my film work. (Oh, and this is on the way….)

I recently spent a day investigating the idea of starting a new, New Mexico based project, one that comes with A LOT of responsibility. It’s too good NOT to either use film or find something equivalent to some degree. Would I like to use film? Sure. Will I? No. It does not work for me at this point. So, I need options.

This story, if I can even get it off the ground, is going to require time, luck, patience and razor-thin access success rates. I can’t carry much. I can’t leave anything in my truck. I’ve got to be quiet, subtle, smooth and accommodating. I look back on my projects of the past. Sicily, Morocco, Bolivia, Man vs Nature, Peru, Panama, the US/Mexico border, Dogs Can’t Read, New Mexico, Uruguay, North Shore Journal, etc. All Leica. Thousands of rolls, thousands of prints. (You can find excerpts of these stories here.)

So when I told my friend he said “Milnor, you sellout,” as he should have. He was joking but perhaps there is some truth to this. Now, in my defense…I already have a lens. My trusty 50mm f/2 is gathering dust and this baby is my all-time fav lens on any system I’ve ever had.

But here is the funny part. In all my years of shooting Leica, which date back to my M4-P of the late 1980s, I’ve never really done anything with Leica outside of teaching one workshop in Palm Springs roughly ten years ago. And I know for certain I was not their first choice. In fact, I don’t think I was there second, third or fourth choice. I think they were desperate and I was around. So many people THOUGHT I was sponsored by Leica but I never was. And like I said, I was never in the conversation. I’ve known many people who were sponsored, others who I felt should have been but weren’t and others who were who shouldn’t have been. I can say the same for most brands actually.

I’m not looking for sponsorship. I’m looking for a camera body. I won’t have the chance to sell out in this case but I just wanted you to know if the opportunity to sell out happens in my life you just might see me in a straw hat and speedo once again. Compromise without complacency is maybe the model I’m after. What would happen if I was approached by the makers of my fountain pen? My shoes? My van? My eyeglasses? Or what if it was Exxon Mobile? Hmm, don’t be so quick to answer. I’ve seen oak trees fall in a steady wind.

Before I end this rambling mess I need to add something. My work at Kodak was about subliminal sales, although I was titled as a “Tech-Rep,” but my primary role was understanding the client and helping them integrate with the company. I do feel it was solid work and it led to many friendships I still have today. So, in other words, well worth it.

Last week I went to a friend’s social gathering. Met a Ph.D. in Ethics. “What are ethics?” I asked to see what his response would be. He looked at me like Hannibal Lecter but the question does beg an answer. “It depends,” could be the best response. Those gray areas of right and wrong. I think we all have skeletons. Mine wear pink suits and funny hats.

Comments 19

  1. Anthony Bourdain has a great section about selling out in Medium Raw. His take probably isn’t what most people would expect.

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    2. Dan I was a Leica film shooter (well still am) and I eventually pulled the trigger on a used Leica m digital. (M240). I will say I think the camera is a great tool. It feels just like my m7 (just a little thicker). I carried my m7 with me everywhere and now the 240 is no different. My main reason to get a digital Leica was work flow. I was shooting so much and digital made that easier. It was great to be able to use my lenses, the Leica glass is so beautiful. I am a huge fan of the Leica system, beautiful, practical, simple design that works and feels perfect in my hand. I also considered the Fuji cameras but In the end I really wanted full frame. I understand people think they are over priced which brand new I agree, but you can get great stuff used for a decent price because most Leica users baby that stuff. Just my thoughts and yeah I’m a sell out too. Lol.

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      I knew it! Sell out! Hey, why don’t you send that camera to me? I just had a birthday. I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do. I’m gearing up for four weeks on the road so nothing in the short term.

  2. PS – That Fujifilm X-T4 is going to sell like mad. I’m happy that I reined in the gear acquisition syndrome pretty quickly, but I have succumbed to it, and I’ve bought too many things that now collect dust. Not going to lie, though – the X-T3 and the X-Pro3 looked nice. There will be a lot of people going for that X-T3 after the X-T4 comes out, assuming there’s a price drop. I have the X-T2 and the X-H1. It’s funny – they’re both fine for what I want to be shooting, not the best but adequate for what I shoot most often (have shot a lot in really low light).

    I hope you’re able to get the Leica. Very curious about the project and want to hear it’s underway. It’d also be interesting to see the M4 and digital in use at the same time. I know, I know, stick to one medium or tool – but you’d have to occasionally give yourself a waiver. There just aren’t that many companies who have maintained such a steady focus that long.

    Why am I writing all of this? Not really to talk about gear. Maybe the added keywords will help get this post popping up in the Leica marketing person’s browser. Hey look, that great storyteller from Blurb wants to shoot a project with a Leica full frame digital. We know he’s going to print a book, write about the project, and discuss it with Advancing Your Photography on YouTube – we should get a camera in his hands. Or at least give him the friends and family discount.

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      I know a few folks at the company but they are absolutely bombarded by requests. And, historically, my views on being a photographer aren’t the mainstream. In addition, my primary Leica device is 51-years old, which does not bode well for selling the latest and greatest. But to your point, yes, I would be a good person to get a camera to but I also understand why they wouldn’t do this very thing. My M4 is a very pricey camera. Black paint, German. I bought it for $500………true story. I love film but I’m attempting to NOT be wasteful and when I think about the jet fuel required for me to double ship film, back and forth, to California it just seems a bit excessive. Digital isn’t clean by any stretch but it does save in some ways.

  3. I’m not trying to sound patronizing, I know that there’s a reason you’d be shipping the film to California – is it because there aren’t labs in NM, or is it because there’s a lab in California that knows your work, style, preferences, etc.?

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      I don’t think there is a lab in NM that does high res scanning and processing like I need. There are two in LA that I worked with for years and I trust them both.

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      The cat is an “influencer,” who is “blessed” to be following its “passion.” #purity #honesty

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      That is even worse. That cat had no say in the matter. But I’m totally okay with it.

  4. I went the other way: I bought a Fuji X-100, just to see what all the fuss was about, and soon after I bought a Leica M10, so the X-100 went in the cupboard. Eventually I gave the X-100 another airing, and tried the jpegs – and one b&w photo in particular caught my eye – I just kept coming back to look at it. Only then did I begin to explore the camera’s capabilities, particularly the jpegs, and I quickly fell in love with the whole Fuji experience, as have so many others. The M10 went into the cupboard and was eventually sold.
    I’m about to upgrade to an X-Pro3 and intend to shoot raw and jpeg; but to use only the jpegs. Why spend hours attempting to match what Fuji engineers have built into the camera? It’s the closest I can get to the experience (the simplicity) of using film.

    Love your photography (Sicily and New Mexico especially). Questionable taste in speedo.


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      I am going to try a fast, third-party lens. Inexpensive and looks interesting. I would LOVE the titanium XPro3, for sure. Looks like a total blast and could be perfect for certain types of stories.

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  5. The whole idea of “selling out” is the sideline critic’s way of diminishing/marginalizing another’s success, and in my mind it’s a great compliment. Selling out, or as I like to think of it, being rewarded for being so good at what you’re doing that someone want’s to reward you for it. The fact that success in one way or another insights jealously or is contrary to that sideline critic’s value set has nothing to do with you, or your success.

    Metallica’s former bassist Jason Newstead, when responding to critic’s accusations on the subject said it perfectly – “Yes, We Sell Out — Every Seat In The House”.

    Also, where can I find a pair of those shorts?

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      Those shorts were an edition of ONE. Thankfully. My new pair is even smaller, FYI. (Kidding, also thankfully.) Speaking of selling out, I’m about to go down the rabbit hole once again which I will explain on my podcast. (Which means at least ten people will hear it.) But, I have good reason this time.

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